Blogs at Amazon

About Chris Schluep

Chris Schluep spent more than a dozen years editing books in New York before moving west. He takes great pride in reading a wide range of books and connecting interested readers with the books they'll love. Chris lives in Seattle with his wife and son, and he feels like he may have one of the best jobs in the world.

Posts by Chris

WWII Hero Louis Zamperini Dead at 97

UnbrokenWhen Louis Zamperini's WWII bomber went down over the Pacific Ocean, he probably didn't think my story will become a huge best seller and be made into a movie. Survival was central to his mind as he sat in his little raft in the middle of the ocean. He had to survive intense sun, lack of food and water, leaping sharks, storms, and enemy aircraft. Eventually, he was taken in as a Japanese prisoner of war, where he was mistreated in ways that might have made his open sea experiences seem like a maudlin vacation. But through faith and resilience he survived to tell his tale.

Although his story is well-known to legions of readers, it is worth repeating (and reading and rereading).

Zamperini was born in 1917 to Italian immigrants in Olean, NY. His family moved to California in 1919, where he showed a proclivity for getting into trouble. To channel his energies, he took up boxing and eventually became a world-class runner. He ran the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he finished 8th—but he ran the last lap of the final so quickly that Adolph Hitler reportedly asked to meet him (they shook hands).

Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in 1941, where he became a bombardier. In 1943, he and his crew were sent to search for a lost aircraft over the Pacific. Their B-24 (commonly known as the “lemon plane”) encountered mechanical difficulties and went down 850 miles west of Oahu. Only three of the eleven men aboard survived. One man, Francis McNamara, died after a month at sea. Zamperini and “Phil” Phillips survived on fish, two albatrosses, and captured rainwater. When they reached the Marshall Islands after forty seven days adrift, they were taken by the Japanese.

Their troubles were far from over.

The movie of his life is scheduled for December of this year. It is based on the inspiring and hugely successful best seller Unbroken.

He also wrote two memoirs: Devil at My Heals and Don't Give Up, Don't Give In (to be published in November).

An Interview with Karin Slaughter, Author of "Cop Town"

CoptownKarin Slaughter is one of the best crime writers around. Her novels are distinguished in part by a rare depth of character, a rare depth that is smart enough to step out of the way of the plot so that readers will keep turning the pages. Her latest is Cop Town—her first stand-alone novel—about a female cop trying to get by in 70s Atlanta. As a rookie cop, Kate Murphy has an uphill climb. But that's just the beginning of her difficulties, with news of a brutal murder and the shooting of a beloved fellow cop.

I caught up with Karin Slaughter at Book Expo America, where we sat down to talk about her book, her research, why she likes to write about Atlanta, and more.

She was an absolute pleasure.

 

An Interview with Lily King, Author of "Euphoria"

LilykingLily King's Euphoria is our Spotlight pick for the Best Books of June. This enchanting novel is based loosely on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, and of it, Sara Nelson wrote: "This is the best kind of historical novel--the kind that sent me running to read more about its real-life inspiration."

It's a book that can be read on several levels, and our entire team got behind it. Some admired Euphoria for its potent sense of love and adventure, while others were drawn in by the drama and the revealing examination of how people study other cultures. Booklist summed it up as "a powerful story, at once gritty, sensuous, and captivating," and I couldn't agree more.

I was happy to get a chance to talk to Lily at the Book Expo America this year:

 

 

An Interview with Biz Stone, Twitter Founder and Author

BizA while back I had the pleasure of talking to Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and author of Things a Little Bird Told Me. Twitter's origin story begins with brainstorming sessions held at Odeo, a podcasting company in San Francisco, where Stone worked after working at a company called Blogger. In the interview below, Stone talks about why they held that brainstorming session, what it was like to get Twitter off the ground, and why you should probably buy your developer a phone if he doesn't have one.

Stone doesn't come from a technical background (at one point, he was a book jacket designer) and his childhood was far from privileged. What he did have was a sound work ethic and the ability to think outside norms—a quality that characterizes so many business successes. In Things a Little Bird Told Me, I found a compelling and inspiring character. The same goes for our conversation below.
Chris Schluep

 

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"Well, How Did I Get Here?" - A Conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard, Author of "My Struggle"

MyStruggleI first heard about Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle like most other people who have heard about it: through the media. It was just before the U.S. publication of book one (there will eventually be six in the series), and I didn't get to reading it at the time. But it hovered at the edge of my awareness, and it would come up every once in a while. (I remember Colson Whitehead trying to describe it during a lunch, and I remember not really getting it.) Eventually I did pick up My Struggle, and I get it now.

But it's not an easy work to describe. My Struggle is about a man named Karl Ove Knausgaard—a writer, father, and husband, who, like the author, grew up with an alcoholic father. The book is notorious for following the banalities of its protagonist's life. It makes art out of the mundane, keeping a bright light on his feelings as he passes his days, and—maybe my favorite part—striking out at times into truthful exposition on life.

Did that help? I don't know. But it's a literary sensation, and it deserves it. Read on to get a better sense of the book and the author.

 

Chris Schluep: I have begun describing My Struggle as “A Portrait of the Artist as a Man.” How do you describe it?

Karl Ove Knausgaard: I think definitions are enemies of the novel, or at least the opposite of what they try to obtain, but My Struggle certainly is about a man who tries to make art out of life, or life out of art, so your description is accurate. For me, the novel basically is about identity. Its starting point
is the question "well, how did I get here?" A man, me, in the middle of his life, that radically changes: he is a son, but his father dies, and he's a father, which forces him into something new, for him, that is —for at the same time, there is a feeling in him that previous generation's roles and behaviours run through him like a flood. So the question is: what is it to be a person? How much of me is mine? The answer is sought in a long run of descriptions of everyday life, but never found or even pinned down, because, well, that would be the opposite of what a novel does.

Knausgaard_aj_photo2Schluep: The books are alternately described by others as novel and memoir, sometimes as both in the same piece. Where do you fall on that distinction? Were you actively looking to tear down these barriers?

Knausgaard: I just tried to write a novel. This was the only way I could do it at the time. So no, no active down-tearing of anything. But for me, these books definitely are novels. I didn´t try to represent my life, but wanted to use my life as a kind of raw material for a novelistic search for meaning or for meaningful patterns. I use all the novels tools, I can describe one day over three hundred pages, or a year in a sentence. It isn´t fiction, though, it´s non-fiction, but it isn't a documentary or a memoir either: it's a non fiction novel.

Schluep: How close is Karl Ove Knausgaard in the books to Karl Ove Knausgaard in real life? Were you generally conscious of separating the two, or did it not matter to you?

Knausgaard: The books reflects my inner self, this is how the world looks from the inside of me—which means that the feelings are as important as the observations, that everything that happens is soaked with feelings. It also means that there are no real barriers between a description of what I read and what I see or do. So it´s me. But if you meet me, you will have quite a different impression, I guess—because the bodily presence is so very different, always tuned in to the other, always restricted to the social rules, which the written self is not.

Schluep: What authorial advice did you give yourself as you sat down to write the first words of My Struggle?

Knausgaard: Just get over with it.

Schluep: When did you realize there would be six books and why did you make that decision?

Knausgaard: I had written twelve hundred pages or so when I handed it over to my editor. He wanted to publish it, and we discussed how we should do it. One volume? Two? Then he proposed twelve volumes, one each month for a year. That was such a brilliant idea. In the end, they didn't dare; it was too risky economically, so we ended up with six novels, three in the fall, three in the spring. I could part the existing manuscript in six, and the job would have been done, but I parted it in two, so that I had to write four more novels that year. So we published the first in September, and I promoted it while writing the third and editing the second,and when that was published, I wrote the fourth, and so on.

Schluep: Did the success of the first book change your approach to writing the ones that followed?

Knausgaard: Not the success, but the controversy definitively did. I never quite understood the rage that these books would be met by, I was naive and completely underestimated the power of the real-life subject. In book one and book two, I´m as honest and direct as I could be (it's impossible to be absolutely honest, which I understood after a few pages), but when all the attention came, which was insane, I became much more careful and kind. In book six, I wanted to take the ruthlessness back, to save the whole project, and that was extremely difficult, being deliberately immoral, and not just accidentaly immoral.

Schluep: You’ve described the writing of My Struggle as “literary suicide.” Could you explain what you meant by that?

Knausgaard: There should be nothing left when I finished. The author should be dead. To obtain that, I even blew all my ideas and plans for future novels. And I succedeed, the author of these books can never come back. So I have to invent a new one if I want to continue writing.

Schluep: How have you come to terms with your fame?

Knausgaard: I haven't, really. My basic approach is that of denial. In most interviews, I talk about how bad these books are, and what a lousy person I am. That's my defence. At the same time, I´m addicted to it, I google myself all the time. And isn't that a typical addiction behavior, a life of kicks and denials?

A Video Interview with Peter Heller, author of "The Painter"

The PainterPeter Heller caught our attention a couple of years ago with his debut The Dog Stars. Here's what we had to say about it at the time:

Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable.

The book was met with wide acclaim and much success—so we eagerly anticipated his next novel. The Painter, about a 45-year-old artist and fly fisherman named Jim Stegner, did not disappoint. In fact, it's even better than The Dog Stars.

Having lost two wives to divorce and his only daughter to violence, The Painter's Jim Stegner has felt the sting of life; but he’s also capable of experiencing great beauty, whether through his art, his relationships, or while out casting on a river. He is a man who is capable of lashing out against the world—the first line in the novel is "I never imagined I would shoot a man."

I sat down to talk to Peter Heller about the inspiration for Stegner, and much more.

 

Dan Roam, Author of "Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations"

Show and tellHumans share a number of universal fears. Fear of spiders, snakes, heights, and closed spaces are all worthy Top 10 contenders.

And then there's fear of public speaking (which might as well be described as "public sweating" in my case).

For a lot of us, giving a presentation is at the top of the list. If we have to do it—and many of us must—it becomes an out-of-body experience that we dread like a Brazilian wax.

With this in mind, I always look forward to hearing from seasoned speakers, people who seem to have it all figured out. Dan Roam, author of Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations, is one of those people, and during our interview I enjoyed both watching him speak and listening to what he had to say. Dan has a unique view on giving presentations, providing useful tools to help us show and tell (hence, the title)—and to make sure we're at our best during these frightful moments.

 

 

>> For more on Dan Roam, go here. <<

100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime

AgathaThe Amazon editors have spent the last few months putting together a list of what we're calling 100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime-- a list of books that will make any person well-read in the genre. As in all lists of this sort, it's a subjective business; but that was half the fun. As Sara Nelson, our Editorial Director, likes to say, we're a pretty opinionated group when it comes to this sort of thing. So we argued, yes, but we're happy with the end result. We hope you are, too. If you're not, you can go to Goodreads to vote for your own favorites.

Here are some interesting details about our list:

  • We did not want to play favorites, so we listed the books in alphabetical order.
  • That said, there's only one author who appears twice on the list: Agatha Christie.
  • The first book on the list, A Coffin for Dimitrios, has even been read by James Bond (in the film version of "From Russia with Love").
  • We included four books for children and young adults. It's never too early to start.
  • Two books are only available as ebooks.
  • We included just a bit of true crime, namely In Cold Blood.
  • The last book left off the list was The Godfather.

Peter Matthiessen Dead at 86

Matthiessen2Peter Matthiessen died today at 5:15pm EST after an illness of some months. He was 86 years old.

Matthiessen was born in New York in 1927. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he embarked for France, where he co-founded The Paris Review. (He later disclosed that he was working for the CIA at the time and used the Review for cover.) An active environmentalist and champion of human rights, Matthiessen produced such great works as The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. His epic Shadow Country, three novels that he painstakingly reworked into one volume, covers the life of Edgar J. Watson, Florida sugarcane farmer and infamous murderer. Shadow Country won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Matthiessen worked up to his death, and his last novel In Paradise, set during a spiritual retreat in Auschwitz, will be published on April 8.

The Amazon editors recently spoke with Peter Matthiessen.

“I Felt I Could Go Deeper with Art” – An Interview with Peter Matthiessen, Author of “In Paradise.”

Peter_Matthiessen-CREDIT-Linda-GirvinNote: Sadly, Peter Matthiessen died today, April 5th, at 5:15pm EST after an illness of some months. He was 86 years old.

Matthiessen was born in New York in 1927. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he embarked for France, where he co-founded The Paris Review. (He later disclosed that he was working for the CIA at the time and used the Review for cover.) An active environmentalist and champion of human rights, Matthiessen produced such great works as The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. His epic Shadow Country, three novels that he painstakingly reworked into one volume, covers the life of Edgar J. Watson, Florida sugarcane farmer and infamous murderer. Shadow Country won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Read on for our recent interview with Peter Matthiessen--

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Peter Matthiessen, three-time National Book Award winner and esteemed author of both fiction and nonfiction, has never backed away from writing about difficult subjects. In his new novel In Paradise he sets his story in the mid-90s, at a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz—the result is a book that is as profound and searching as anything he has written before. In Paradise is our spotlight pick for the Best Books of April

The Amazon books editors recently had the opportunity to ask Mr. Matthiessen some questions about In Paradise

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Chris Schluep: When I first started reading the galley, I thought, “I didn’t know Peter Matthiessen was Jewish.” But you’re not. How aware of this were you while writing the novel?

Peter Matthiessen: I was aware that I wasn’t Jewish, of course, and I was only somewhat hindered by doubt on that score. It was more that I wasn’t qualified in other ways. I wasn’t a veteran of the camps, and perhaps more important, I hadn’t lost family in them; some people don’t think you’re entitled to write about the camps unless you’ve had first-hand experience of them. And of course I was humbled by the many powerful accounts of life in the camps: who needed mine? If I couldn’t bring something fresh to it, why do it at all? Nonetheless, there was a strange experience I wanted to write about.  In the mid-1990s an international group of more than a hundred went to Auschwitz. We chose to go in the winter, because that was the toughest time for the prisoners, and we stayed in the former SS barracks and meditated on the selection platforms in all weathers. It was a way of honoring or “witnessing” for the more than a million who had died there. In addition to the violent impression the place itself made on us, so grim and relentless—the towers and gates, all that barbed wire, the few decrepit barracks still standing--most of us experienced a peculiar event in the course of our stay there, a manifestation of … something. I couldn’t purge myself of the wish to write about it. I’d kept a journal of my time there, and later I sketched out a factual account, but I found no way to do justice to the experience with the bare facts, which were nebulous. Under those circumstances, I felt I could go deeper with art, with a novel. As a character in the book, an old painter, says, “The only way to understand such evil is to reimagine it. And the only way to reimagine it is through art.”

MatthiessenCS: One of your greatest gifts as a writer is the ability to express authentic outrage in the face of injustice. Is this something you’ve actively sought to do throughout your writing career?

PM: I’ve mainly sought to keep my voice down, let the evidence speak for itself.  Which is not to say that I wasn’t really angry about certain situations– Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers, the neglect of American Indian people, the systematic exploitation of the environment for unworthy purposes that results in its ruin. I’ve always lived by Camus’s idea that the duty of the writer is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, and perhaps that’s more true of the death camp victims than anybody else. I don’t want to urge good behavior on people – I don’t think that’s my role--but there’s nothing in human nature that separates us from the potential for doing such evil again. We all have this capacity – we can’t only blame it on the Germans.

CS: Do you view that as a part of your writing legacy?  

PM: I’ve never really thought about my “writing legacy.” I’m not sure I have one.

CS: One of the characters—Anders, the evolutionary biologist—questions whether a potential for evil behavior can be called “unnatural” or “inhuman," and there’s a great Solzhenitsyn quote in the novel along the same lines. Where do you fall on this? How does your understanding of Buddhism inform your reaction to evil? 

PM: I have to agree with Solzhenitsyn (and Anders) in the tragic absence of any more sensible explanation. To get to the bottom of evil has taxed far greater minds than mine, at far greater length, so I’ll avoid the temptation to define it definitively. But Buddhism has a teaching, which comes in three parts: We shall not do evil; we shall do good; we shall do good for others. The last part is key. I have to agree with his Holiness the Dalai Lama – the only essential virtue is kindness, compassion. To the extent that everybody in In Paradise, including my main character, Clements Olin, is trying to behave decently, to be open to the others on the retreat, the book recommends that. But in a few cases, it’s a painful recommendation. I quote someone in the book as having said that the point of life is to help others through it. Essentially that would be a Buddhist thought, and at my best, so to speak, I try to go along with it.

CS: If I were to summarize the book to someone, I’d say it’s about art, spirituality, and love in the face of the void. But that seems too schematic, and it narrows it. 

PM: Those labels all apply, of course, but others do, too.  I never describe it if I can help it. I try to avoid restraining it that way.

CS: It’s evident in reading the novel that you’ve read much literature on the Holocaust. Could you provide a short reading list for our readers?  

PM: I think Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz is the one absolutely essential text, because it’s so concentrated, and he expresses himself so vividly and beautifully. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski (who is the subject of Clement Olin’s research in In Paradise) captures the lunatic aspect of the whole phenomenon of the death camps – how terrible and how ordinary they were, the disgusting food, the living circumstances that sooner or later would kill you, as they were designed to. Borowski just describes it; Levi spells it out. And then there are the extraordinary diaries and letters of Etty Hillesum, a wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful young Dutch woman, with a family, a lover, aspirations to be a writer, who died at Auschwitz in 1943. And you read with dread, because very quietly, through the eyes of this enormously sensitive person, you see the Holocaust developing, life narrowing down, and you know that these people are going to get arrested, sooner or later.

CS: Is there a book you haven’t written that you would like to write? 

PM: Many. Where do I start?

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